November 15, 2008
Fountain Hills, Arizona
I went to Javelina Jundred this year because after the cancellation of Western States I didn’t want a year to go by and forget what a 100 miler feels like. I got a good reminder on Saturday: 100 milers hurt … for a long time.
November is not an ideal time for me to do a 100 – especially one in the desert. Fall is very busy with ski patrol. The days are shortening which generally means less running and a gradual building up of my insulating layer for the cold, wet winter ahead. I ran the race last year so I knew exactly what I was in for: sun, beautiful desert, sun, saguaros, sun, a low-key race, sun, heat, sun, dry air, and more sun. With absolutely zero heat training and only one 50 mile training run I shouldn’t have been surprised it was the grind that it was. I had hopes of running 18 hours, but I got 100 number ten done in 19:57.
The race is on the 15.4 mile Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mtn Park near Scottsdale Arizona. Six laps run in alternating directions plus a final 9-10 mile “half-a-loop.” Only a couple hundred feet of climbing each lap. Mostly smooth single and double track with a few miles of rocks and a couple of short sandy sections. No shade whatsoever. Two aid stations out on the course about 5 miles apart with the headquarters at the start/finish as the third. It is naturally run faster at the beginning when it’s cool and the legs are fresh, slower as the sun and heat go up, and either steady or slower at the end as the legs get tired and the stride shortens. Doesn’t sound *that* hard to me. Yet, this race generally only has a 50% finishing rate. This year we had 72 finishers out of 147 starters. At the end of each lap you are back with your crew at your campsite and your car and your cooler with ice cold beer. Perhaps that’s why.
The first two laps were easy with only the first half hour in the dark and the temps relatively cool in the 70s. Against my philosophy of waiting for signs and symptoms, I was taking S-caps preemptively at one an hour. The top 20 or so were fairly close with the exception of Todd Braje (pronounced Brewhaha) who was way out front – sporting his white hemp sleeves. Since we alternate directions each lap I saw concern on Brewhaha’s face when we exchanged words as I finished my second and he began his third. This made me reflect on my own condition and the changes that are soon to come. On the long rocky “climb” at the start of the third lap I feel a wave of nausea come over me. Woah, this isn’t good. Then some cramp twinges. I’m already behind in my sodium. So I slow down, work on getting the sodium balanced, and continue to keep up on the fluids as the temps climb into the 80s. In June, 80s would be cool, but in November the 80s are more like 100s to my Oregon body. A couple more waves of nausea and probably a total of 8 S-caps (that’s almost 3 grams) get me through those 15 miles, moving still but not very fast.
As I near the end of the third lap I see a different leader: Andrew Heard, whom I’ve never heard of. Not far behind is Jeff (Riley, aka Bilirubin) my training partner. He looks awesome. Jeff and I were together at the end of the first lap. What a contrast. Jeff’s racing, and I’m surviving. I get some good pampering from Chris, Katie, Laurie, and the Updegroves (Jim and Jane) before starting my fourth lap – the hottest – with ice in my hat and a layer of sunscreen on my arms, shoulders, and legs. Before I leave, Jim makes sure to tell me I look terrible, which is exactly what I want. Don’t tell me I look good when I’ve got a coral reef growing on my face.
The fourth lap is highlighted by a group of what I assume are wild horses that scatter as I startle them. I also get passed by the trash-talking, 100-mile virgin Todd Ragsdale from Ashland. He had started out conservatively and looked really strong. “Don’t let me catch you late,” I warned him. We had raced each other at SOB 50K earlier this year, and he caught me early, pulled away, only to come back in the last few miles. He looked to be running smart and strong now, and I didn’t really believe I’d catch him back. Not a mile or two later I see Brewhaha walking. Todd had earned a spot in Western States this year by winning Way Too Cool 50K. Living in Eugene at the time, he sought me out for advice. Todd, you gotta learn to run slower. 10 minute pace will get you the win at WS. I manage to get through the fourth lap still under 3 hours.
Back at Headquarters I get first class pampering again from my crew as I sit in a chair: ice massage, food, drink, more telling me I look terrible from Jim. It’s a little over 61 miles, the sun is still blazing hot, and most of us are cooked. This is a big drop-out spot, and on this day 42 runners call it quits after four laps. I eventually get out of my chair, and the tendons behind my knees do not enjoy straightening. They loosen up in a few steps, and I shuffle off into lap 5 anticipating the setting of the sun and the cooler temperatures. I do the math in my head. I can “run” a couple 3.5 hour laps and then 2 hours for the last and squeeze in under 20. One thing I find interesting about ultras is how much the outcome is determined by what I set my mind to. When I run a 50K I don’t think at the end how I could easily run another 50K. When I run 50 miles I don’t think I could run another 50 miles. So how do I run 100 miles? Because my mind is set at 100 miles when I start. So when I get to 50K, 50 miles or 100K point the mind hasn’t reached the goal so I can keep going. Whatever I set my mind to is what I can do. Never more. So here I am after 61 miles locking myself into a sub 20 hour goal. Why 3.5 hour laps? I hadn’t even run over 3 hours yet, and it was about to get cooler? Beats me. Guess sub 20 was more important than busting my butt and running 19:20. Lap 5 is uneventful except for seeing Jeff about 6 miles from the end which means he’s got about 12 miles on me. He yells, “I’m killing it, LB” as we pass. I tell him to stay focused and keep pushing to break 17. Damn, I wish I was running as well as he is.
I finish lap 5 (76 miles) in 3:20 something and decide no more sitting down at Headquarters. The crew feeds me, massages me, and Chris walks out with me. The calculations continue: with 3.5 hours on the sixth lap and 2 on the half-a-loop I am under 20, but there isn’t a whole lot to spare. About halfway through this sixth lap I see the trash-talking Todd Ragsdale from Ashland again. Hmmm. I have to admit I’m just a bit excited to see him again, until he tells me he has sharp pain in his knee. He says he’s dropping. Bummer. I continue slogging down the trail through the nasty rocky section thinking about how much I was looking forward to the cooler temps. Now that it is cool my legs don’t work. I hurt everywhere. My feet protest on every wrong step on the rocks. I’ve got some chaffing that is beginning to become a problem. My hamstrings and the back of my knees are tight and sore. I’m getting the reminder I wanted. Run more miles in training. Do more runs over 50 miles. Heat train.
At Headquarters for the last time Jeff is already finished, and he wants to start telling me how his race went. But I still have business to do so I congratulate him, tell him he can tell me the stories later, and get out of the aid station in 2 minutes at 11:49pm. I have 2 hours and 10 minutes for the half-a-loop. The timers tell me I’m in 6th place, 5th man. Laurie joins me as my pacer for the first time ever. When we talked about this weeks earlier she was worried I’d drop her. The reality is that I’m running so slowly she has no problem staying with me as we poke our way up the rocky uphill section. Having never paced before she didn’t quite know what to do. She starts talking and asking me questions about who the hell knows what. She catches on quickly that she is irritating me, and that I just need to be in my own little space as I complain about each rock. “Have I told you how much I love these rocks?” I ask after the umpteenth stumble. My feet are hating this, and I feel several blisters on my toes. We lap a couple runners who are on lap 5, and now we can’t tell if the lights behind are somebody catching me or somebody 30 miles behind me. She continually looks back, telling me there are lights. I don’t want to get passed, but I don’t think I have much to give if somebody is running faster than me. Do I really care? I play games with myself. It doesn’t matter if somebody passes me now, I’m just going for sub 20. Hell yeah I care about getting passed. Get moving you wimp. On and on this dialog continues in my head as we think we’re getting caught. At the last aid station we get to take a different trail back: the Tonto Trail, which we haven’t been on all day. We’re at the last station at 1:10am, and my pleas for exact mileage to the end from the volunteers yield several different answers. One thinks it’s 4.3 miles to the Pemberton and then another mile. Another tells me 5.7. Holy cow, if you don’t know please don’t guess. I want *exact* mileage. Arrgh. I want this to be over, and I need to know how far. Pretty fun running with a grump, Laurie? We “hammer” down the Tonto which is refreshingly smooth. Laurie does a good job encouraging me and telling me I’m running faster than 10 minute pace. I sense a couple of times that I could drop her, but she still denies it today. It was fun having her pace me, and we just might do it at the end of WS if she can ever get to the race again.
We get to the Pemberton Trail with a mile to go and plenty of time to spare. I finish uneventfully in 19:57 and 6th place. Katie, Chris, Laurie and the Updegroves continue to care for me as I lay there by the fire in the fetal position like a baby.
Post race I’ve felt terrible. Is this what they’ve always felt like? Maybe at 44 I am getting old. Maybe I needed this reminder so I’ll train harder. All I know is I get to rest for a couple of weeks before I begin my build up for WS on June 27.